1st Sunday in Advent
Rev. D. K. Schroeder
Matthew 24:37-44 Sermon
November 28, 2004
Hymns (from The Service Book and Hymnal):
3 "The Advent Of Our God"
1 "Hark A Thrilling Voice Is Sounding"
14 "Rejoice All Ye Believers"
48 "What Child Is This?"
TEXT: (vs. 40-42) “Then two men will be in the field; one is taken and one is left. Two women will be grinding at the mill; one is taken and one is left. Watch therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming.”
Today, I’d like to share a bit of American history with you. First, I’d like you to look at a picture you may recognize. This red, white, and blue logo is the symbol used by the Civil Defense. It’s a blue circle with a white triangle inside, with the stylized letters “CD” in the middle.
The Civil Defense was established on May 20, 1941 by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Its purpose was to provide "Nonmilitary measures designed to protect civilians in wartime." Not quite 6 months later came the attack on Pearl Harbor by the Japanese, and the USA found itself fully involved in World War II.
Civil Defense continued to be active right through the Cold War years. It was during this time that cities installed air raid sirens, and had fallout shelters. Many public buildings displayed this sign indicating that they were a fallout shelter facility.
Fallout shelters were an interesting concept. If there were to be a nuclear attack, the air raid sirens would sound. The emergency broadcast system also would go into effect. You would be instructed to turn to either 640 or 1240 on the AM radio dial for further instructions. In fact, on older radios, you would often see the little “Civil Defense” logo on those dial positions. In those days, this radio alert system was called “ConElRad” which meant “Control for Electromagnetic Radiation.”
Fallout shelters were designed to protect people from nuclear fallout. If a bomb were to explode in the vicinity, the debris, or fallout that would come back to earth would be radioactive. Simple shelters would usually be in the basements of public buildings. There were also more elaborate shelters which were constructed specifically for that purpose.
The shelter had to provide a reasonable amount of protection from the outside elements, and have a filtered air supply. Inside, you’d find a supply of drinking water, dehydrated food, and basic medical supplies. There was also some basic electronic equipment, such as radios, flashlights, and a Geiger counter to test for radiation. Some people even dug up their back yards and built their own fallout shelters.
I remember this time very well. There were public service announcements on TV from the Civil Defense, telling about the air raid sirens, the emergency broadcast system, and fallout shelters. In school, we had instructional films telling us what to do in case of nuclear attack. We were supposed to “duck and cover” which meant that we were to cover our face with our arm, and duck down under our school desks—like that would protect us from a nuclear blast. But it sounded reasonable to me at the time.
I’ve taken the time to explain all this to you in order to demonstrate the degree and the intricate details used by the Civil Defense so people would be prepared in case of nuclear attack. Government offices could be shifted to safe quarters at almost a moment’s notice. People could get to a nearby shelter rather quickly. Everything was done with one thought in mind, and that is “be prepared.” People had to be prepared and know what to do if they had any hope of survival.
In our text for today, this is what Jesus is talking about. In verse 44 of Matthew 24, we hear Jesus’ warning: “Therefore you also must be ready; for the Son of man is coming at an hour you do not expect.”
Jesus is telling us that we need to be prepared and ready all the time for that day when we shall see him face-to-face. What if Jesus were to show up in our home and tell us “okay, your time has come.” Would we be ready for him? Would we be ready to come when he calls? Does our life show that we are ready and waiting to meet our Saviour?
It’s sad to say that many people are not ready. Some people have put their faith sort of on the “back burner,” intending to get to it later, but never do. Some people have let their church attendance or church activities go by the wayside. Some people think that they can put God off until later, thinking they’ll have plenty of time in the future for God and religion—but not now. There are so many other pressing things that seem so important to us….certainly God will understand why our relationship with him isn’t as good as it could be.
But Jesus indicates otherwise. In effect, he’s saying that we need to be ready, and be ready NOW, at all times. For when we meet him, there won’t be any “later on.” There will be no putting it off until a better time. It will happen like a “thief in the night”—at a time when we do not expect it.
I’d like to share one of my Australian experiences with you today. When I was there, I used to have a vicar, or student intern from the Seminary come and work with me for a year.
This one year, my vicar got a letter from one of his classmates, a guy by the name of Ernie Schultz. Ernie had worked and saved up some money, enough to buy a bunch of airline tickets. He had decided to take a year out of his seminary studies to make a trip around the world to visit all the church’s missions in other countries. Of course our mission was one of the first ones he was going to visit. So Ernie wrote to my vicar and asked if he could come. Of course that was okay. I also asked him to preach at our two churches while he was there, and he agreed.
Ernie arrived on a Saturday morning, and my vicar picked him up at the airport in Brisbane. I was at our congregation 163 miles north in Maryborough that weekend. Ernie would preach that Sunday at our Brisbane church, then come up to Maryborough where I lived early in the week, and preach the next weekend there.
All was well and good, until my vicar got a phone call to come and pick up a car in Sydney, which is 600 miles south of Brisbane. So my vicar (Ken) and Ernie hopped on a bus and went to Sydney. They picked up the car, and were heading up to Maryborough.
I was expecting them, and had supper ready. But they didn’t show up. Hours passed, and I was really getting concerned. Then my phone rang, and it was Ken my vicar.
The two of them had stopped along the way to go swimming at a public beach. They were in the water, and Ernie was about 6 feet further out than Ken. Ken was able to swim back to shore, but Ernie got caught up in a rip tide and drowned. Ken stayed down there for the next several days, and discovered his body, washed up on shore a couple miles from where they were swimming three days later.
I conducted Ernie’s funeral that next week. We videotaped it and sent it back to the USA. I had never met him face-to-face. I had only spoken with him on the phone and he wrote me a letter once. Other than those brief encounters, I never really knew him.
I did learn a lot about him however. He had a big notebook with him that had a lot of personal notes and entries. I heard from his other friends and classmates as to what kind of a guy he was. Ernie Schultz was a kind and gentle person, and a very dedicated Christian. He would have been a good pastor; but the Lord had other plans for him.
Every time I read verse 40 of our text for today, “Then two men will be in the field; one is taken and one is left.” I think about this situation with my vicar Ken and Ernie Schultz. One man was taken, one wasn’t.
So was Ernie ready to meet his Lord? Well, I know he didn’t come to Australia to die. He had several thousand dollars worth of airline tickets in his possession. People all around the world were expecting his arrival. I know that dying wasn’t in his immediate plans.
But was he ready to meet Jesus? Was he prepared? Were there things about the state of his soul that he was putting off until a better time?
From what I read, and from what I was told, there probably wasn’t a person that could have been any more ready to meet Jesus than he was. I preached a funeral sermon full of confidence and hope, knowing that he is indeed in heaven, and that he is there serving his Lord full-time. His life was one that was dedicated to humble and faithful service, and his death brought him to his heavenly reward. It is as Paul says, “For me to live is Jesus, and to die is gain.” Even though I never met Ernie Schultz face-to-face on this earth, I know I will see him in heaven someday.
Be prepared. That’s the warning that Jesus is giving us today. We can’t look at poor Ernie’s accidental drowning and say, “That’s so sad, but something like that will never happen to me.” People die all the time without planning for it. Death often happens with little or no warning at all. I know that Ernie Schultz was ready; are we?
I think we need to take a good long look at ourselves. As we look at ourselves in comparison to what God demands, we find ourselves coming up on the short end of things all the time. Where we should have done something good, we have done that which was bad. Where we should have said the right thing, we have said the wrong thing. We have been untruthful. We have neglected our spiritual life. We have put God off until a “better time.” We have seen our church life as being something okay to “let slide” for awhile.
I think that far too often, we are not prepared and ready to meet Jesus. It seems like it’s something that’s so far off in the future, that there is plenty of time.
Be prepared. That’s the warning Jesus is giving us today. Today also is the beginning of Advent, where we prepare to journey once again in spirit to the manger in Bethlehem to worship and adore our new-born Saviour and King. It’s through faith in him that we will be prepared to meet him face-to-face.
We can take all of our sins and be rid of them. Through faith in Jesus our Saviour, all of our sins are forgiven. That burden has been completely lifted. As we once again behold this new-born Saviour, we know that is the reason he came in the first place. He came so that through faith, the glory of heaven will be the reward that waits us. We are truly prepared when we keep this faith alive and active.
In Luke 2, 11 the Angel of the Lord gives the following message to the Shepherds in the hills surrounding Bethlehem: “For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is Christ the Lord.” This was good news to the Shepherds, and it is good news for us as well. The Saviour was born for us to rescue us from death and the devil, so we could spend an eternity with him in paradise.
The Civil Defense continued to operate as a department of the federal government until 1979 when President Jimmy Carter took what was left of it, and incorporated it under a new title called “FEMA” – the Federal Emergency Management Authority. The Civil Defense does still operate in some areas under local authority, and there is still a rather large organization bearing the name “Civil Defense,” but it operates as a private non-profit organization, and not part of the government.
So what has happened to all of the Civil Defense stuff from the Cold-War era? Many of those old air-raid sirens are used for tornado warnings, and the old fallout shelters have been dismantled or used for other purposes. As for the shelters people built in their homes, well they make wonderful places to store wine, or a good place to go in the event of a tornado. It’s been pretty well established that the fallout shelters would be fairly useless in the case of a nuclear attack.
Through the Civil Defense department, the government tried to keep people prepared for what might have happened. Even though the shelters might not have been all that effective, yet it gave people a sense of security and peace of mind. I paid attention to all those warnings. I remember them well. And I was as prepared as I could be in case we were bombed. I could “duck and cover” with the best of them. I was prepared for something that might have happened, but didn’t.
Today, Jesus gives the warning to be prepared for something that will definitely happen; we just don’t know the day or the time. The day is going to come when we meet him face-to-face. It might happen slowly, like in the case of a long illness; or it might happen suddenly, like it did with Ernie Schultz. Are we ready to meet him? Are we prepared for that day?
Through faith in Jesus our Saviour, we are indeed ready. Therefore we need to keep close to him through regular worship, Bible Study, personal devotion, and prayer.
Our church is here to help in this regard. It is a key part of our ministry to help people prepare for their finals when that day occurs. With our faith in Jesus kept strong and active, we shall indeed be prepared to meet our Saviour. Come Lord Jesus!
NOTE: If you would like to check out a website that helped me in the preparation of this sermon, go to: www.civildefensemuseum.com